This summer’s impending failure of the Kyoto Protocol

January 8, 2003

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"By making it clear that the United States won’t pretend to meet the Kyoto limits, the Bush administration has, for all intents and purposes, killed the Kyoto Protocol. Now it has a responsibility to build an alternative."
– David Victor, "Piety at Kyoto Didn’t Cool the Planet," New York Times, 23 March 2001
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March 28, 2001 – Designed to control global warming, the Kyoto Protocol – scheduled for a new round of negotiations July 16-27, 2001— is too impractical for countries to implement and will therefore fail. That’s the major finding of The Collapse of the Kyoto Protocol and the Struggle to Slow Global Warming (Princeton University Press, 2001) by Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow David Victor.

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Though opposed to the Kyoto Protocol, Victor argues that THE SCIENCE BEHIND GLOBAL WARMING IS CONVINCING. The dangers of global warming from years of emissions, such as rising sea level and the risk of catastrophic changes in climate, are real enough to merit serious efforts to control emissions, he maintains.

However, THE KYOTO PROTOCOL IS NOT THE ANSWER to slowing global warming, according to Victor, and the international community must immediately come to terms with the Protocol’s flaws. The Kyoto Protocol is based on a complicated formula that allows countries wishing to emit more pollution than allotted to purchase "pollution permits" from other nations that pollute less.

--Victor argues that such an arrangement would be unrealistic because it would require creating permits worth $2 trillion dollars, the largest invention of assets by voluntary international treaty in history.

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--Under international law, Victor argues, there is no way to guarantee those assets.

--Countries unhappy with their allocation can simply withdraw or refuse to join the scheme.

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--Moreover, the Protocol does not provide for adequate monitoring and enforcement.

--Rather, the enforcement mechanism envisioned for the Kyoto Protocol would let countries sell tens of billions of dollars worth of emission permits and then withdraw completely—without penalty.

--The incentives for nations to cheat on their Kyoto obligations will be strong, and the mechanisms available to deter cheating are lame.

The Collapse of the Kyoto Protocol outlines A BETTER STRATEGY TO CONTROL GLOBAL WARMING than the volatile and expensive emissions trading scheme. Victor’s plan allows governments to issue unlimited new emission permits at an agreed price. This strategy would effectively cap the cost of complying with international limits on greenhouse gas emissions and make it much easier for governments to agree on how to divide the cost and share the burden.

The Collapse of the Kyoto Protocol is available on and in bookstores across the country.


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